Iron Fist Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Doug Moench, Tony Isabella, Chris Claremont, Gil Kane, Larry Hama, Arvell Jones, John Byrne & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5032-9 (HB)

Comicbooks have always operated within the larger bounds of popular trends and fashions – just look at what got published whenever westerns or science fiction dominated on TV – so when the ancient philosophy and health-&-fitness discipline of Kung Fu made its unstoppable mark on domestic entertainment it wasn’t long before the Chop Sockey kicks and punches found their way onto the four-colour pages of America’s periodicals.

As part of the first Martial Arts bonanza, Marvel converted a forthcoming license to use venerable fictional villain Fu Manchu into a series about his son. The series launched in Special Marvel Edition#15, December 1973 as The Hands of Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu and by April 1974 (#17) the title became his exclusively.

A month later the House of Ideas launched a second oriental-tinged hero in Iron Fist; a character combining Eastern combat philosophy with high fantasy, magic powers and a proper superhero mask and costume…

The character also owed a hefty debt to Bill Everett’s pioneering golden Age super-hero Amazing Man who graced various Centaur Comics publications between 1939 and 1942. The tribute was paid by Roy Thomas & Gil Kane who adopted and translated the fictive John Aman’s Tibetan origins into something that meshed better with the 1970’s twin zeitgeists of Supernatural Fantasy and Martial Arts Mayhem…

This power-packed collection (available as both sturdy hardback and bantamweight EBook) gathers the far-ranging appearances of the youthful Living Weapon from Marvel Premier #15-25 and Iron Fist#1-2 (spanning May 1974 to December 1975), tracking the high-kicking wonder as he uncovers his past and rediscovers a long-deferred heritage of humanity before inevitably settling into the inescapable role of costumed crusader…

Following a fond and informative reminiscence from Thomas in his Introduction, the non-stop action begins with the spectacular Marvel Premier #15 and the first flurry of ‘The Fury of Iron Fist!’

Thomas, Kane & inker Dick Giordano reveal how a young masked warrior defeats the cream of a legendary combat elite in a fabled other-dimensional city before returning to Earth.

Ten years previously little Daniel Rand had watched helplessly as his father and mother died at the hands of family friend Harold Meachum whilst the party risked Himalayan snows to find the legendary lost city of K’un Lun.

Little Danny had travelled with his wealthy parents and business partner Meachum in search of the fabled city – which only appears on Earth for one day every ten years. Wendell Rand hides some unsuspected connection to the fabled Shangri La, but is killed before they find it, and Danny’s mother sacrifices herself to save her child from wolves… and her murderous pursuer.

As he wanders alone in the wilderness, the city comes to Danny. He spends the next decade training: mastering all forms of martial arts in the militaristic, oriental, feudal paradise. He endures arcane ordeals, living only for the day he will return to Earth and avenge his parents…

After conquering all comers and refusing peace, a home and immortality, Iron Fist touches Earth once more: a Living Weapon able to turn his force of will into a devastating super-punch…

From the outset the feature was plagued by an inability to keep a stable creative team, although, to be fair, story quality never suffered, only plot and direction. Reaching New York City in #16, ‘Heart of the Dragon!’ (by Len Wein, Larry Hama & Giordano) finds Iron Fist reliving the years of crushing tuition and toil which had culminated in a trial by combat with mystic dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. Victory granted him the power to concentrate his fist “like unto a thing of Iron” and other, as yet unspecified, abilities. The epic clash had branded his chest with the seared silhouette of the fearsome wyrm…

His recollections are shattered when martial arts bounty hunter Scythe attacks, revealing that Meachum knows the boy is back and has put a price on his callow head…

Danny has not only sacrificed immortality for vengeance but also prestige and privilege. As he left K’un Lun, supreme ruler of the city Yü Ti, the August Personage in Jade, had revealed that murdered Wendell Rand had been his own brother…

Marvel Premier #17 saw Doug Moench take over scripting as Iron Fist storms Meachum’s skyscraper headquarters: a ‘Citadel on the Edge of Vengeance’ and converted into a colossal 30-storey death trap. Danny’s undaunted progress to the top leads to a duel with cybernetically-augmented giant Triple-Iron and a climactic confrontation with his parents’ killer in #18’s ‘Lair of Shattered Vengeance!’

The years had not been kind to Meachum. He lost his legs to frostbite returning from the high peaks, and, upon hearing from Sherpas that a boy had been taken into K’un Lun, the broken American had spent the intervening decade awaiting in dread for his victims’ avenger…

Filled with loathing, frustration and pity, Iron Fist turns away from his intended retribution, but Meachum dies anyway, slain by a mysterious Ninja as the deranged multi-millionaire attempts to shoot Danny in the back…

In #19, Joy Meachum and her ruthless uncle Ward – convinced that Iron Fist has assassinated the wheelchair-bound Harold – steps up the hunt for Danny through legal and illegal means, even as the shell-shocked Living Weapon aimlessly wanders the strange streets of Manhattan. Adopted by the enigmatic Colleen Wing, Danny meets her father, an aging professor of Oriental Studies who has fallen foul of a ‘Death Cult!’

In his own youthful travels, the aged savant had acquired ancient text The Book of Many Things which, amongst other wonders, held the secret of K’un Lun’s destruction. The deadly disciples of Kara-Kai are determined to possess it…

After thwarting another murder attempt Iron Fist tries to make peace with Joy, but instead walks into an ambush with the bloodthirsty ninja again intervening and slaughtering the ambushers…

A period of often painful inconsistency began as Tony Isabella, Arvell Jones & Dan Green took over with #20. The Kara-Kai cultists renew their attacks on the Wings whilst Ward Meachum hires a veritable army of killers to destroy the Living Weapon in ‘Batroc and Other Assassins’ – with the identity of the ninja apparently revealed here as the elderly scholar…

Marvel Premier #21 (inked by Vince Colletta) introduced the ‘Daughters of the Death Goddess’ as the Wings are abducted by the cultists and bionic former cop Misty Knight debuts, first as foe but soon after as an ally.

When Danny tracks down the cult he discovers some shocking truths – as does the ninja, who had been imprisoned within the ancient book by the August Personage in Jade in ages past and possessed Professor Wing in search of escape and vengeance…

All is revealed and the hero exonerated in #22’s ‘Death is a Ninja’ (inked by “A. Bradford”) with the ninja disclosing how, as disciple to sublime wizard Master Khan, he had attempted to conquer K’un Lun only to be imprisoned within the crumbling tome for his pains.

Over the years the prisoner had discovered a temporary escape and subsequently manipulated the Wings and Iron Fist to secure a permanent release and the doom of his jailers. Now exposed, the ninja faces the Living Weapon in a final cataclysmic clash…

A measure of stability resumed with #23 as Chris Claremont, Pat Broderick & Bob McLeod took the series in a new direction. With his life’s work over and nearly nine years until he can go “home”, Danny is now a man without purpose… until, whilst strolling with Colleen, he stumbles into a spree shooting in ‘The Name is… Warhawk.’

When the cyborg-assassin has a Vietnam flashback and begins heedlessly sniping in Central Park, the Pride of K’un Lun instantly responds to the threat… and thus begins his new role as a hero…

In ‘Summerkill’ (inked by Colletta) the itinerant exile battles alien robot The Monstroid and commences a long and complicated association with Princess Azir of Halwan. The incident also coincides with the mysterious Master Khan resurfacing, apparently intent on killing her and seizing her country…

Inked by Al McWilliams, Marvel Premier #25 was the last of the hero’s run and the start of his short-but-sweet Golden Age as John Byrne signed on as regular penciller for ‘Morning of the Mindstorm!’

Whilst Colleen is driven to unconsciousness and abducted and her father pushed to the edge of insanity by mind-bending terrorist Angar the Screamer, Danny – who is made of far sterner, more disciplined stuff – overcomes the psycho-sonic assaults and tracks the attackers to Stark Industries and into his own series…

Iron Fist #1 (November 1975) featured ‘A Duel of Iron!’ as he is tricked into battling Iron Man, even as Colleen escapes and runs into Danny’s future nemesis Steel Serpent before being recaptured and renditioned to Halwan…

After a spectacular, inconclusive and ultimately pointless battle, Danny and Misty Knight also head for Halwan in ‘Valley of the Damned!’ (#2, inked by Frank Chiaramonte), with our hero recalling a painful episode from his youth wherein his best friends Conal and Miranda chose certain death beyond the walls of regimented K’un Lun rather than remain in the lost city where they could not love each other…

To Be Continued…

Iron Fist’s peripatetic saga ranks amongst the most exciting and enjoyable Costumed Dramas of Marvel’s second generation. If you want a good, clean fight comic (and one supported by a TV iteration) this is certainly one of your best bets. Bow reverently, and Begin…
© 1974, 1975, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0980-8 (HB)                    978-0-7851-3712-2 (TPB)

Fantastic Four #1 is the third most important American comicbook in the industry’s astounding history. Just ahead of it are The Brave and the Bold #28, which brought superhero teams back via the creation of the Justice League of America, and at the top Showcase #4, which introduced the Flash and therefore the Silver Age. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics – National Periodicals as it then was – and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force), Jack Kirby settled into his job at the small outfit that used to be the publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas.

He churned out mystery, monster, romance and western material in a market he suspected to be ultimately doomed but, as always, did the best job possible. That quirky genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

However, his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when the JLA caught the readership’s attention it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

Depending upon who you believe, a golfing afternoon led publisher/owner Martin Goodman ordering his nephew Stan to try a series about a group of super-characters like the one DC was doing. The resulting team quickly took fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t the costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue.

It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these characters weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and a recognizable location – New York City – imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

In many ways, The Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners-in-peril at National/DC) laid all the groundwork for the wonders to come, but the staid, almost hide-bound editorial strictures of National would never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated.

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) is crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

As seen in that ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and poor, tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. Despite these terrifying transformations, before long the quartet had become the darlings of the modern age: celebrity stalwarts alternately saving the world and publicly squabbling shamefully…

This full-colour hardcover or paperback compendium (also available in various digital formats) collects Fantastic Four #11-20, plus the first Annual, and chronologically spans February to November 1963.

We open sans preamble with more groundbreaking innovations as FF #11 offers two short stories instead of the usual book-length yarn. ‘A Visit with the Fantastic Four’ provides a behind-the-scenes travelogue and examination of our stars’ pre-superhero lives, after which ‘The Impossible Man’, proves to be a baddie-free, compellingly comedic tale about facing an unbeatable foe.

The unorthodox shenanigans are rounded off with a suitably grandiose pin-up of Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner.

FF #12 featured an early example of guest-star promotion as the team are required to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’: a tale packed with intrigue, action and bitter irony. It’s followed by an even more momentous and game-changing episode.

‘Versus the Red Ghost and his Incredible Super Apes!’ is a cold war thriller pitting the heroic family against a Soviet scientist in the race to reach the Moon: a tale notable both for the moody Steve Ditko inking (replacing adroit Dick Ayers for one glorious month) of Kirby’s artwork and the introduction of the oxygen-rich “Blue Area of the Moon” and the omnipotent, omnipresent cosmic voyeurs called The Watchers

As the triumphant Americans rocket home, issue #14 touts the return of ‘The Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master!’ – with one vengeful fiend made the unwitting mind-slave of the other – and adding lustre and tantalising moral ambivalence to the mighty Sea King who was to become the company’s other all-conquering antihero in months to come…

This epic was followed in turn by ‘The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android!’ wherein a chilling war of intellects between driven super-scientists resulted in a cerebral yet all-action clash with plenty of room for smart laughs to leaven the drama. The pin-up extra this time is a candid group-shot of the entire team.

Fantastic Four #16 explored ‘The Micro-World of Doctor Doom!’ in a spectacular romp guest-starring new hero Ant-Man whilst also offering a Fantastic Four Feature Page outlining the powers and capabilities of the elastic Mister Fantastic. Despite his resounding defeat, the steel-shod villain promptly returned with more infallible, deadly traps a month later in ‘Defeated by Doctor Doom!’ Except they actually weren’t and soon sent the sinister tyrant packing…

The shape-shifting aliens who challenged the team in their second adventure returned with a new tactic in #18 as the team tackle an implacable foe equipped with their own powers in ‘A Skrull Walks Among Us!’: a potent prelude to greater, cosmos-spanning sagas still to come…

Cover-dated October 1963, Fantastic Four #19 introduced another remarkable, top-ranking super-villain as the quarrelsome quartet travel back to ancient Egypt and become ‘Prisoners of the Pharaoh!’

This time twisting tale tale has been revisited by so many writers that it’s considered one of the key stories in Marvel Universe history: introducing a future-Earth tyrant who would evolve into overarching menace Kang the Conqueror.

Another universe-rending foe debuted and was defeated by brains not brawn in FF #20 as ‘The Mysterious Molecule Man!’ briefly menaced New York before being soundly outsmarted.

The vintage wonderment concludes here with the contents of the first summer Fantastic Four Annual: a spectacular 37-page epic by Lee, Kirby & Ayers as, finally reunited with their wandering prince, the armies of Atlantis invade New York City and the rest of the world in ‘The Sub-Mariner versus the Human Race!’

A monumental tale by the standards of the time (and still today), the saga saw the FF repel the initially overwhelming undersea invasion through valiant struggle, brilliant strategy and technological innovation, as well as providing a secret history of the secretive race Homo Mermanus.

Nothing was really settled except a return to the original status quo, but the thrills are intense and unforgettable…

Also included herein are rousing pin-ups and fact file features. Interspersed by ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’ (powerful pin-ups of The Mole Man, Skrulls, Miracle Man, Prince Namor, Doctor Doom, Kurrgo, Master of Planet X, Puppet Master, Impossible Man, The Hulk, Red Ghost and his Indescribable Super-Apes and The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android), you can enjoy ‘Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four’; a diagrammatic trip ‘Inside the Baxter Building’ and a bemusing short tale ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four meet Spider-Man!’.

This is an extended re-interpretation of the first meeting between the two most popular Marvel brands from the premiere issue of the wallcrawler’s own comic. Pencilled this time by Kirby, the dramatic duel was graced by Steve Ditko’s inking which created a truly novel and compelling look.

Some might argue that these yarns might be a little dated in tone, but they these are still classics of comic story-telling illustrated by one of the world’s greatest talents approaching his mature peak. Fast, frantic fun and a joy to read or re-read, this comprehensive, joyous introduction (or even reintroduction) to these characters is a wonderful reminder of just how good comic books can and should be.
© 1963, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Captain America and the Falcon: Nomad


By Steve Englehart, John Warner, Sal Buscema, Frank Robbins, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2197-8 (TPB)

Created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby in an era of frantic patriotic fervour, Captain America was a dynamic and highly visible response to the horrors of Nazism and the threat of Liberty’s loss.

He faded away during the post-war reconstruction but briefly reappeared after the Korean War: a harder, darker sentinel ferreting out monsters, subversives and the “commies” who lurked under every brave American kid’s bed. Then he vanished once more until the burgeoning Marvel Age resurrected him just in time for the turbulent, culturally divisive 1960s. Perhaps it’s just coincidence but at the time the USA were just getting heavily involved in a conflict in Southeast Asia…

This startling paperback and eBook collection reprints issues #177-186 (spanning September 1974 – June 1975) of the monthly comicbook and shows the previously steadfast Sentinel of Liberty as a troubled and disillusioned man: unhappy, uncomfortable and unable to bear the weight of being a national symbol of a divided nation that had been betrayed and subverted by its highest elected officials.

At this time America was a nation reeling from mass culture shock caused by Vietnam, the Watergate scandal and the humiliating exposure of President Nixon’s crimes. The widespread loss of idealism and painful public revelations that politicians are generally unpleasant – and even possibly ruthlessly wicked exploiters – kicked the props out of most Americans who had an incomprehensibly rosy view of their leaders, so a conspiracy that reached into the halls and backrooms of government was extremely controversial yet oddly attractive in those distant, simpler days…

Sickened, shocked and stunned at the poisoned American Dream – and despite the arguments and advice of his Avenging allies – Steve Rogers searched his soul and realised he could not be the symbol of such a country. He threw off the costume and rank to wander the country bereft of ideals or direction…

Unable to convince him otherwise his crimefighting partner Sam Wilson carried on alone, as the high-flying Falcon tackles an invasion by a body-snatching alien X-Men foe – in conjunction with earthly villain Aries – in ‘Lucifer be thy Name’ (scripted by Steve Englehart and illustrated by Sal Buscema & Vince Colletta).

The double-dealing devils are promptly wrapped up in ‘If the Falcon Should Fall…!’ when Steve, unable to keep aloof, resorts to type and heroically piles in to the final showdown…

Whilst the dejected civilian settles into an uncomfortable self-inflicted retirement, in his costumed absence a few painfully unqualified civilians begin trying to fill the crimson boots of Captain America… with dire results…

Captain America and the Falcon #179 sees Rogers hunted by a mysterious Golden Archer whose ‘Slings and Arrows!’ soon convince the ex-hero that even if he can’t be the Star-Spangled Avenger, neither can he abandon the vocation of do-gooder. This moment of revelation leads to a life-changing decision and ‘The Coming of the Nomad!’ in #180, even as the Serpent Squad turn up again with morally ambivalent Princess Python in tow and maniac nihilist Madame Hydra assuming the suddenly-vacant role of the Viper.

When “the Man Without a Country” tackles the ophidian outlaws, he comes off second best but does stumble across a sinister scheme by the Squad and Sub-Mariner’s arch-nemesis Warlord Krang. The marine malcontent plans to raise a sunken continent and restore an ancient evil-drenched civilisation in ‘The Mark of Madness!’

At the same time Falcon is ignoring his better judgement: agreeing to train a determined young man to become the next Captain America…

An era ended when Sal Buscema surrendered Captain America and newspaper-strip creator Frank Robbins came aboard for a controversial run beginning with ‘Inferno!’ (inked by Joe Giella). Whilst Nomad successfully mops up the Serpent Squad – despite well-meaning police interference – Sam and Cap’s youthful substitute had encounter the Sentinel of Liberty’s greatest enemy with fatal consequences…

Inked by Frank Giacoia, ‘Nomad: No More!’ finds a grief-stricken, guilt-crushed Rogers once more take up his stars and stripes as the murderous Red Skull simultaneously attacks the hero’s loved ones and destabilising America’s economy by defiling banks and slaughtering the financial wizards who run them…

Beginning in the chillingly evocative ‘Cap’s Back!’ (with art by Herb Trimpe, Giacoia & Mike Esposito), rampaging through the utterly shocking ‘Scream of the Scarlet Skull!’ (Buscema, Robbins & Giacoia) and climaxing in ‘Mindcage!’ (with additional scripting from John Warner and art by Robbins & Esposito) the inimitable Sentinel of Liberty takes the fight to freedom’s greatest foe.

Tragically, despite driving the Skull off, Steve is stymied and frustrated when his greatest friend and ally is apparently revealed as the Skull’s stooge and sleeper-agent slave…

And on that staggering cliffhanger note this epic collection concludes…

To Be Continued…

Despite the odd cringe-worthy moment (for example, I specifically omitted the part where Nomad battles three chicken-themed crooks, and still wince at some from this era of “blacksploitation” and burgeoning ethnic awareness), these tales of matchless courage and indomitable heroism are fast-paced, action-packed, totally engrossing fights ‘n’ tights that no comics fan will care to miss: fabulously fun tales of a true American Dreamer…

Moreover, and all joking aside, the cultural significance of these tales were crucial in informing the consciences of the youngest members of the post-Watergate generation and could even stand as a warning from history in regard to the current polarising party-political shenanigans besetting the hotly-contested, gerrymandered Land of the Free and over-mortgaged Home of the Brave…
© 1972, 1973, 1984, 1975, 2006, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Essential Godzilla


By Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe, Tom Sutton & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2153-4

What’s big and green and leaves your front room a complete mess? No, not a Christmas tree, but (arguably) the world’s most famous monster.

Back in 1976 manga and anime were only starting to creep into global consciousness and the most well-known popular culture Japanese export was a colossal radioactive dinosaur who regularly rampaged through the East, destroying cities and fighting monsters even more bizarre and scary than he was.

At this time Marvel was well on the way to becoming the multi-media corporate colossus of today and was looking to increase its international profile. Comic companies have always sought licensed properties to bolster their market-share and in 1977 Marvel truly landed the big one with a 2-year run of one of the world’s most recognisable characters. They boldly broke with tradition by dropping him solidly into real-time contemporary company continuity. The series ran for 24 guest-star-stuffed issues between August 1977 and July 1979.

Gojira first appeared in the eponymous 1954 anti-war, anti-nuke parable directed by Ishiro Honda for Toho Films; a symbol of ancient forces roused to violent reaction by mankind’s incessant meddling. The film was re-cut and dubbed into English with a young Raymond Burr inserted for US audience appeal, and the Brobdingnagian beast renamed Godzilla. He has smashed his way through 27 further Japanese movies, records, books, games, many, many comics and is the originator of the manga sub-genre Daikaijû (giant strange beasts).

Although a certified sell-out, this mammoth monochrome collection is not generally available and – due, I presume to copyright issues – is not likely to resurface anytime soon in either physical or digital form, but if you’re a regular prowler in back issue bins you might get lucky. Stranger things have happened…

In this no-frills, no-preamble Marvel interpretation compilation, the drama begins with ‘The Coming!’, courtesy of Doug Moench, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney, as the monstrous aquatic lizard with radioactive fire-breath erupts out of the Pacific Ocean and rampages through Alaska.

Superspy organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. is quickly dispatched to stop the onslaught, and Nick Fury calls in Japanese experts Dr. Yuriko Takiguchi, his grandson Robert and their eye-candy assistant Tamara Hashioka. After an inconclusive battle of ancient strength against modern tech, Godzilla returns to the sea, but the seeds have been sown and everybody knows he will return…

In Japan many believe that Godzilla is a benevolent force destined to oppose true evil. Young Robert is one of them and he gets the chance to expound his views in #2’s ‘Thunder in the Darkness!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia & George Tuska) when the skyscraper saurian resurfaces in Seattle and nearly razes the place before being lured away by S.H.I.E.L.D. ingenuity.

Veteran agents Dum-Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones and Jimmy Woo are seconded to a permanent anti-lizard task force until the beast is finally vanquished, but there are also dozens of freelance do-gooders in the Marvel universe…

Sadly, when the Green Goliath takes offence at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, he attracts the attention of a local superhero team. The Champions – a short-lived, California-based team consisting of Black Widow, The Angel, Iceman, Ghost Rider and Hercules – rapidly respond in ‘A Tale of Two Saviours’ (with the solids inks of Tony DeZuñiga adding a welcome depth to the art). Typically, the humans spend more time fighting each other than the monster…

There’re only so many cities even the angriest dinosaur can trash before tedium sets in so writer Moench begins his first continued story in #4 with ‘Godzilla Versus Batragon!’ (guest-pencilled by the superb Tom Sutton and again inked by DeZuñiga), wherein deranged scientist Dr. Demonicus enslaves Aleutian Islanders to help him grow his own world-wrecking giant horrors… until the real thing shows up…

The epic encounter concludes in ‘The Isle of Lost Monsters’ (inked by a fresh-faced Klaus Janson) before ‘A Monster Enslaved!’ in #6 opens another extended epic as Herb Trimpe returns and Godzilla as well as the general American public are introduced to another now commonplace Japanese innovation.

Giant, piloted battle-suits or Mecha first appeared in Go Nagai’s 1972 manga classic Mazinger Z, and Marvel would do much to popularise the sub-genre in their follow-up licensed title Shogun Warriors, (based on an import toy rather than movie or comic characters but by the same creative team as Godzilla). Here young Rob Takiguchi steals S.H.I.E.L.D.’s latest weapon – a giant robot codenamed Red Ronin – to aid the Big Green Guy when he is finally captured.

Fred Kida stirringly inked the first of a long line of saurian sagas with #7’s ‘Birth of a Warrior!’ whilst the uneasy giant’s alliance ends in another huge fight in concluding chapter ‘Titan Time Two!’

‘The Fate of Las Vegas’ (Trimpe and Kida) in Godzilla #9 is a lighter-toned morality play with the monster destroying Boulder Dam and flooding the modern Sodom and Gomorrah, but it’s soon back to big beastie bashing in ‘Godzilla vs Yetrigar’: another multi-part mash-up that ends in ‘Arena for Three!’ as Red Ronin returns to tackle both large looming lizard and stupendous, smashing Sasquatch.

The first year ends with #12’s ‘The Beta-Beast!’: first chapter in an invasion epic. Shanghaied to the Moon, Godzilla is co-opted as a soldier in a war between alien races who breed giant monsters as weapons, and when the battle transfers to Earth in ‘The Mega-Monsters from Beyond!’, Red Ronin joins the fray for blockbusting conclusion ‘The Super-Beasts’ (this last inked by Dan Green).

Afterwards, loose in cowboy country, Godzilla stomps into a rustling mystery and modern showdown in ‘Roam on the Range’ and ‘The Great Godzilla Roundup!’ before the final story arc begins.

‘Of Lizards, Great and Small’ in #17 starts with a logical solution to the beast’s rampages after superhero Ant-Man’s shrinking gas is used to reduce Godzilla to a more manageable size. However, when the diminished devastator escapes from his cage and becomes a ‘Fugitive in Manhattan!’, it’s all hands on deck as the city waits for the shrinking vapour’s effects to wear off.

‘With Dugan on the Docks!’ then sees the secret agent battle the saurian on more or less equal terms before the Fantastic Four step in for ‘A Night at the Museum.’

The FF have another humane solution and dispatch Godzilla to a primeval age of dinosaurs in #21’s ‘The Doom Trip!’, allowing every big beast fan’s dream to come true as the King of the Monsters teams up with Jack “King” Kirby’s uniquely splendid Devil Dinosaur – and Moon Boy – in ‘The Devil and the Dinosaur!’ (inked by Jack Abel), before returning to the 20th century and full size for a spectacular battle against the Mighty Avengers in ‘The King Once More’.

The story and series concluded in #24 (July 1979) with the remarkably satisfying ‘And Lo, a Child Shall Lead Them’ as all New York’s superheroes prove less effective than an impassioned plea, and Godzilla wearily departs for new conquests and other licensed outlets.

By no means award-winners or critical masterpieces, these stories are nonetheless a perfect example of what comics should be: enticing, exciting, accessible and brimming with “bang for your buck.”

Moench’s oft-times florid prose and dialogue meld perfectly here with Trimpe’s stylised interpretation, which often surpasses the artist’s excellent work on that other big, green galoot.

These are great tales to bring the young and disaffected back to the comics fold and are well worth their space on any fan’s bookshelf. If only somebody could get all the lawyers in a room and have them battle out a solution to enable us to see them in a new edition…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2006 Toho Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved. Godzilla, King of the Monsters ® Toho Co., Inc.

Golden Age Captain America Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Joe Simon & Jack Kirby and various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2228-9 (HB)

Captain America was devised at the end of 1940 and boldly launched in his own monthly title from Timely – the company’s unofficial trading designation – with none of the customary cautious shilly-shallying. The first issue was cover-dated March 1941 and was an instant monster, blockbuster smash-hit. Cap was instantly the absolute and undisputed star of Timely’s “Big Three” – the other two being The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. He was also one of the very first to plummet from popularity at the end of the Golden Age.

These days, the huge 1940s popularity of the other two just doesn’t translate into a good read for modern consumers; excluding, perhaps, some far-too-few Bill Everett-crafted Sub-Mariner yarns. In comparison to their contemporary rivals and industry leaders at Quality, Fawcett, National/All American and Dell, or The Spirit newspaper strip by Will Eisner, the standard of most Timely periodicals was woefully lacklustre in both story and, most tellingly, art.

That they survived and prospered is a true Marvel mystery, but a clue might lie in the sheer exuberant venom of their racial stereotypes and heady fervour of jingoism at a time when America was involved in the greatest war in world history…

However, the first ten Captain America Comics are indisputably the most high-quality comics in the fledgling company’s history and I can’t help but wonder what might have been had National (née DC) been wise enough to hire Simon & Kirby before they were famous, instead of after that pivotal first year?

Of course, we’ll never know and although the team supreme did jump to the majors after a year, their visual dynamic became the mandated aspirational style for super-hero comics at the company they left. Moreover, their patriotic creation became a flagship icon for them and the industry.

Truth be told however, the groundbreaking and exceptionally high-quality material from Joe Simon & Jack Kirby is not really the lure here… the real gold nuggets for us old sods and comics veterans are the rare back-up features overseen by the star duo and crafted by their small pool of talented up-&-comers.

Although unattributed the assistants included at various times Reed Crandall, Syd Shores, Alex Schomburg, Mort Meskin, Chu Hing, Gustav Schrotter, George Klein, C.A. Winter, Fred Bell and many more working on main course and filler features such as Hurricane, the God of Speed and Tuk, Caveboy; strips barely remembered today yet still brimming with the first enthusiastic efforts of creative legends in waiting.

This lavish and exceptional hardback volume (also available in various digital formats) reprints original Star-Spangled blockbusters Captain America Comics #5-8 (spanning August to November 1941) and also provides a fascinating insight into the fly-by-night nature of publishing during those get-rich-quick days in an Introduction from historian and comics scripter Gerard Jones, after which the astounding never-ending action resumes…

After scrawny, enfeebled young patriot Steve Rogers is continually rejected by the US Army, he is recruited by the Secret Service. In an effort to counter a wave of Nazi-sympathizing espionage and sabotage, the passionate young man was invited to become part of a clandestine experiment intended to create physically perfect super-soldiers.

However, when a Nazi agent infiltrated the project and murdered its key scientist, Rogers became the only successful graduate and transitioned into America’s not-so-secret weapon and very public patriotic symbol.

Despatched undercover as a simple army private, he soon encountered James Buchanan Barnes: a headstrong, orphaned Army Brat who became his sidekick and costumed confidante “Bucky”.

In the period when America was still officially non-combatant, Rogers and his sidekick were stationed at East Coast army base Camp Lehigh, but still manage to find plenty of crime to crush and evil to eradicate.

In Simon & Kirby’s ‘Captain America and the Ringmaster of Death’ the arrival in town of a circus leads to the deaths of General Blaine and Defense Commissioner Newsome in suspicious circumstances. It’s not long before both the masked heroes and government agent Betty Ross reach the same conclusion: all the acts and freaks are Nazi operatives sabotaging the nation’s security through murder… but not for much longer…

Japan was still a neutral nation too, so although visually their soldiers and spies were also unmistakeably ever-present, the eastern arm of the Axis alliance (the other two being Germany and Italy, history fans) were still being referred to as “sinister Orientals” and “Asiatic Aggressor nations”. Even so, when Steve and Bucky accompany new commanding General Haywood to the US pacific base of Kunoa, the readers knew who was really behind ‘The Gruesome Secret of the Dragon of Death!’, and revelled in seeing them scupper the most spectacular secret weapon yet aimed at the forces of freedom…

Back in the USA, the hard-hitting Star-Spangled Stalwarts then come to rescue of decent, law-abiding German Americans terrorised by the ‘Killers of the Bund’, who were determined to create a deadly Fifth Column inside America’s heartland.

Following a rousing ad for the newly minted Captain America’s Sentinels of Liberty society, a glorified infomercial for the club comes in the form of prose adventure ‘Captain America and the Ruby Robbers’ scripted by Stan Lee with spot art by S&K, after which the Patriotic Pair rescue a downed volunteer American flyer held prisoner on a former French Island now administered by the collaborating Vichy government.

‘Captain America and… The Terror That Was Devil’s Island’ is an action-drenched melodrama plucked from the contemporaneous Hollywood movie mill and referencing films such as 1937’s The Life of Emile Zola, 1939’s Devil’s Island and perhaps even 1941’s I Was a Prisoner on Devil’s Island. It served to show that infamy and cruelty could not long subdue any valiant American heart…

Joining the list of supporting features, the equally relevant if improbable adventures of ‘Headline Hunter, Foreign Correspondent’ began with this issue. Crafted by Stan Lee & Harry Fisk, these shorts find US journalist Jerry Hunter sent to Blitz-blighted London to report on the European war, only to become the story after he uncovers a traitor in the corridors of power…

Sporting only a title page by Simon & Kirby, primeval wonder ‘Tuk, Cave Boy’ bows out in a final example of “Weird Stories from the Dark Ages” as he saves his mentor Tanir from marauding beast-men and ends forever the depredations of brutal tyrant Bongo, before seasoned pro Charles Nicholas (née Wojtkowski) assumes the art chores on ‘Hurricane, Master of Speed’. Hurricane was the earthbound son of the thunder god Thor (no relation to the 1960s version): a brisk reworking and sequel to Kirby’s ‘Mercury in the 20th Century’ from Red Raven Comics #1 (August 1940), and here intercedes in a diabolical plot to destabilise the economy by flooding the banks with counterfeit currency…

Issue #6 carried a September 1941 cover-date and opens with a classic murder spree thriller as ‘Captain America Battles the Camera Fiend and his Darts of Doom’ in a frantic bid to prevent the theft of Britain’s Crown Jewels.

Timely were never subtle in terms of jingoistic (we’d say appallingly racist) depictions, and even the normally reserved Simon & Kirby let themselves go in ‘Meet the Fang, the Arch Fiend of the Orient’ as Cap and Bucky challenge the full insidious might of the Tongs of San Francisco’s China Town to save kidnapped Chinese dignitaries from a master torturer…

Another new feature debuted next. Scripted by Lee and illustrated by Al Avison & Al Gabriele ‘Father Time: The Grim Reaper Deals with Crime’ details how Larry Scott learned that his father had been framed for murder. Through heroic efforts Scott exposed the true culprits but was seconds too late to save his sire from the noose.

Determined that time should no longer be on the side of criminals and killers, Larry devised a ghastly costume and – wielding a scythe – brought his dad’s persecutors to justice. They would be only the first in Father Time’s crusade…

Simon & Kirby’s art and stories were becoming increasingly bold and innovative and ‘The Strange Case of Captain America and the Hangman Who Killed Doctor Vardoff’ reveals a diabolical game of Ten Little Indians as the suspects perish one by one whilst the superheroes attempt to catch a ruthless killer and retrieve a stolen experimental super-silk invention…

Lee and an unknown artist then offer another thinly-veiled prose plug for the Sentinels of Liberty club as Cap and Bucky lay a ‘Trap for a Traitor’, after which Headline Hunter, Foreign Correspondent ‘Battles the Engine of Destruction’ (by Lee & Fisk) and exposes an aristocratic English fascist building Nazi terror weapons in his British factories.

Following further Sentinels of Liberty club news and puzzle pages ‘Hurricane, Master of Speed’ closes the issue, crushing a murder plot in his own boarding house with art courtesy of Charles Nicholas.

CAC #7 is a stunning comic milestone and leads with the iconic clash ‘Captain America in the Case of the Red Skull and the Whistling Death’. With Steve and Bucky ordered to participate in a Vaudeville-themed troop show at Camp Lehigh, the Nazi super-assassin stalks the city slaughtering his old cronies and American military experts with a mysterious sound weapon. The monster’s big mistake is leaving the shadows and arrogantly turning his attention to Cap…

‘The Case of the Baseball Murders: Death Loads the Bases’ seemingly offers a change of pace but Steve’s sporting relaxation turns into more work when a masked maniac starts knocking off his team’s star players…

Lee’s regular prose novelette provides ‘A Message from Captain America’ introducing his fellow heroes Jerry Hunter, Hurricane and Father Time before S&K strip feature ‘Horror Plays the Scales’ pits the Red, White and Blue Bravos against a murdering musician knocking off anti-Nazi politicians.

Ken Bald & Bill Ward introduce a comedy foil for Hurricane, Master of Speed as ‘Justice Laughs Last’ sees the speedster adopt portly shopkeeper Speedy Scriggles after protection racketeers target the feisty fool.

Headline Hunter (by Lee & Fisk) then clears an Englishman accused of murdering an American film star and reveals a Nazi plot to disrupt Anglo-US relations whilst Father Time’s ‘Race Against Doom’ (Lee, Al Avison & Al Gabriele) saves another innocent patsy from taking the fall for a crooked DA and his mob boss paymaster. The issue then closes with more puzzles and patriotic pronouncements from Cap and Bucky to all their fee-paying Sentinels…

Captain America Comics #8 (cover-date November 1941) was released months before the Pearl Harbor atrocity catapulted the nation into official war so the contents might have compiled as early as June or July. Thus it opens with another gripping crime conundrum – ‘The Strange Mystery of the Ruby of the Nile and Its Heritage of Horror’ – which sees the heroes assisting Betty Ross in safeguarding a fabulous antique jewel but seemingly helpless to prevents its archaeologist excavators from being butchered by a marauding phantasm…

The impending conflagration does inform ‘Murder Stalks the Maneuvers’ when a Nazi infiltrator attends full-contact war games and uses the opportunity to trick American soldiers into destroying each other with live ammo whilst Headline Hunter, Foreign Correspondent remains in the thick of it facing ‘The Strange Riddle of the Plague of Death’ (Lee & Fisk).

This time he saves London (and the Home Counties) from a strange sickness spread by bread…

After more Sentinel propaganda and absorbing puzzles Simon & Kirby reveal the ‘Case of the Black Witch’ as Cap and Bucky protect a young woman’s inheritance and clash with a sinister sorceress and the worst horrors hell could conceive of.

Charles Nicholas returns to Hurricane as the Master of Speed and his new pal shut down a crooked ‘Carnival of Crime’, after which Lee & an unsung illustrator promote in prose a new Timely title when ‘The Young Allies Strike a Blow for Justice’. Please be warned: the treatment of Negro (heroic) character Whitewash here is every bit as dated, contentious and potentially offensive as the era’s representations of other races, so kudos to the editors for leaving the story untouched…

Closing on a bombastic high Father Time then deals harshly with robbers who use bank strong rooms to asphyxiate witnesses in ‘Vault of Doom!’

An added and very welcome bonus for fans is the inclusion of some absolutely beguiling house-ads for other titles, contents pages, Sentinels of Liberty club bulletins and assorted ephemera…

Although lagging far behind DC and despite, in many ways having a much shallower Golden Age well to draw from, it’s still commendable that Marvel has overcome an understandable initial reluctance about its earliest product and continues to re-present these masterworks – even if they’re only potentially of interest to the likes of sad old folk like me.

However, with this particular tome at least, the House of Ideas has a book that will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best that the Golden Age of Comics could offer.
© 1941 and 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0785137108 (TPB 2009)              978-0785191292 (HB 2015)

I’m partial to a bit of controversy so I’m going start off by saying that Fantastic Four #1 is the third most important American comicbook of the last 75 years. Just ahead of it are The Brave and the Bold #28, which brought superhero teams back via the creation of the Justice League of America and at the top Showcase #4, which introduced the Flash and therefore the Silver Age. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics – National Periodicals as it then was – and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force), Jack Kirby settled into his job at the small outfit that used to be the publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas.

He churned out mystery, monster, romance and western material in a market he suspected to be ultimately doomed but, as always, did the best job possible. That quirky genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

However, his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when the JLA caught the readership’s attention it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

Depending upon who you believe, a golfing afternoon led publisher/owner Martin Goodman ordering his nephew Stan to try a series about a group of super-characters like the one DC was doing. The resulting team quickly took fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t the costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue.

It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these characters weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and a recognizable location – New York City – imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

In many ways, The Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners-in-peril at National/DC) laid all the groundwork for the wonders to come, but the staid, almost hide-bound editorial strictures of National would never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated.

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) is crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

This full-colour compendium (available in hardback, trade paperback and digital formats) collects the first 10 issues of progressive landmarks – spanning November 1961 to January 1963 – and opens with ‘The Fantastic Four’ exactly as seen in that groundbreaking premier issue.

It sees maverick scientist Reed Richards summon his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother before heading off on their first mission. They are all survivors of a private space-shot that went horribly wrong when Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and tragic Ben was a hideous freak trapped in a shambling, rocky body.

In ‘The Fantastic Four meet the Mole Man’ they promptly foil a plan by another outcast who controls monsters and enslaves humanoids from far beneath the Earth.

This summation of the admittedly mediocre plot cannot do justice to the engrossing wonder of that breakthrough issue – we really have no awareness today of how different in tone, how shocking it all was.

“Different” doesn’t mean “better” even here, but the FF was like no other comic on the market at the time and buyers responded to it hungrily. The brash experiment continued with another old plot in #2. ‘The Skrulls from Outer Space’ were shape-changing aliens who framed the FF in the eyes of shocked humanity before the genius of Mister Fantastic bluffed them into abandoning their plans for conquering Earth. The issue concluded with a monstrous pin-up of the Thing, proudly touted as the first in a series…

Sure enough, there was a pin-up of the Human Torch in #3, which headlined ‘The Menace of the Miracle Man’ (inked by Sol Brodsky), whose omnipotent powers had a simple secret, but is more notable for the first appearance of their uniforms, and a shocking line-up change, leading directly into the next issue (continued stories were an innovation in themselves) which revived a golden-age great.

‘The Coming of the Sub-Mariner’ reintroduced the all-powerful amphibian Prince of Atlantis, a star of Timely’s Golden Age but one who had been lost for years.

A victim of amnesia, the relic recovers his memory thanks to some rather brusque treatment by the delinquent Torch. Namor then returns to his sub-sea home only to find it destroyed by atomic testing. A monarch without subjects, he swears vengeance on humanity and attacks New York City with a gigantic monster. This saga is when the series truly kicked into high-gear and Reed was the star of the pin-up section…

Until now the creative team – who had been in the business since it began – had been hedging their bets. Despite the innovations of a contemporary superhero experiment their antagonists had relied heavily on the trappings of popular trends in the media – and as reflected in their other titles.

Aliens and especially monsters played a major part in the earlier tales but Fantastic Four #5 took a full-bite out of the Fights n’ Tights apple by introducing the first full-blown super-villain to the budding Marvel Universe.

No, I haven’t forgotten Mole Man: but that tragic little gargoyle, for all his plans of world conquest, wouldn’t truly acquire the persona of a costumed foe until his more refined second appearance in #22.

‘Prisoners of Doctor Doom’ (July 1962, and inked by the subtly slick Joe Sinnott) has it all. An attack by a mysterious enemy from Reed’s past; magic and super-science, lost treasure, time-travel, even pirates. Ha-Haar, me ‘earties!

Sheer magic! And the creators knew they were on to a winner since the deadly Doctor returned the very next issue, teaming with a reluctant Sub-Mariner to attack our heroes as ‘The Deadly Duo!’ (inked by new regular embellisher Dick Ayers).

Alien kidnappers were the motivating force behind another FF frame-up, resulting in the team becoming ‘Prisoners of Kurrgo, Master of Planet X’; a dark, grandiose, cosmic-scaled off-world thriller in #7 (the first monthly issue), whilst a new returning villain and the introduction of a love-interest for the monstrous Thing were the breakthrough high-points in #8’s ‘Prisoners of the Puppet Master!’

The saga was topped off with a Fantastic Four Feature Page explaining how the Torch’s powers work. The next issue offered another, detailing with endearing mock-science ‘How the Human Torch Flies!’

That issue – #9 – trumpeted ‘The End of the Fantastic Four’ as the Sub-Mariner returns to exploit another brilliant innovation in comic storytelling. When had a super-genius superhero ever messed up so much that the team had to declare bankruptcy? When had costumed crimefighters ever had money troubles at all? The eerily prescient solution was to “sell out” and make a blockbuster movie – giving Kirby a rare chance to demonstrate his talent for caricature…

1963 was a pivotal year in the development of Marvel. Lee & Kirby had proved that their new high concept – human heroes with flaws and tempers – had a willing audience. Now they would extend that concept to a new pantheon of heroes. Here is where the second innovation would come to the fore.

Previously, super-heroes were sufficient unto themselves and shared adventures were rare. Here, however, was a universe where characters often tripped over each other, sometimes even fighting each other’s enemies! The creators themselves might turn even up in a Marvel Comic!

Fantastic Four #10 featured ‘The Return of Doctor Doom!’ wherein the arch-villain used Stan & Jack to lure the Richards into a trap where his mind is switched with the bad Doctor’s. The tale was supplemented by a pin-up – at long-last – of ‘Sue Storm, the Glamorous Invisible Girl’

Although possibly – just, perhaps – a little dated in tone, these are still undeniable classics of comic storytelling illustrated by one of the world’s greatest talents approaching his mature peak. They are fast, frantic fun and a joy to read or re-read. This comprehensive, joyous introduction (or reintroduction) to these characters is a wonderful reminder of just how good comic books can and should be.
© 1961, 1962, 1963, 2009, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 2 1966-1968: Lonely are the Hunted


By Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, Werner Roth, Don Heck, George Tuska, Ross Andru, Jack Sparling, Dan Adkins, Tom Sutton, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9583-2

In the autumn of 1963 The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: very special students of Professor Charles Xavier.

The teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo Superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After nearly eight years of eccentrically spectacular adventures the mutant misfits virtually disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just like in the closing years of the 1940s, mystery men faded away as supernatural mysteries and traditional genre themes once more dominated the world’s entertainment fields…

Although their title returned at the end of the year as a cheap reprint vehicle, the missing mutants were reduced to guest-stars and bit-players throughout the ongoing Marvel universe, whilst the bludgeoning Beast was opportunistically transformed into a scary monster to cash in on the horror boom.

Even in their heyday the mutants were never a top seller and this volume reveals an increasing tendency for radical rethinks and attention-grabbing stunts that would soon be common currency throughout comics…

X-Men always enjoyed a small, devout and dedicated following, with the frantic, freakish energy of Jack Kirby’s heroic dynamism comfortably transiting into the slick, sleek cosy attractiveness of Werner Roth as the blunt tension of hunted outsider kids settled into a pastiche of college and school scenarios so familiar to the students who were the series’ main audience.

By the time of this turbulent compilation (collecting in trade paperback and digital formats X-Men #24-45 and Avengers #53, plus spoof skits from Not Brand Echh #4 and 8 from September 1966 to June 1968), attitudes and events from the wider world were starting to inflict an era of uncertainty on the Merry Mutants and beginning to infuse every issue with an aura of nervous tension.

During the heady 1960s, Marvel Comics had a vast following among older teens and college kids, and youthful scribe Roy Thomas spoke and wrote as they did. Coupled with his easy delight in expansive character casts this initially made X-Men a very welcoming read for we adolescent baby-boomers. However, with societal unrest everywhere, those greater issues were beginning to be reflected in the comics…

A somewhat watered-down version of the counter-culture had been slowly creeping into these tales of teenaged triumph and tragedy, mostly for comedic balance, but they were – along with Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man – some of the earliest indications of the changing face of America…

Illustrated by Roth with Dick Ayers inking, the action opens with the recently departed Marvel Girl (yanked out of the Xavier School – and consequently off the team – and packed off to college by her parents) visiting her old chums to regale them with tales of life at New York’s Metro University…

Her departure segues neatly into a beloved plot standard – Evil Scientist Grows Giant Bugs – when she enrols and meets an embittered recently-fired professor, leading her erstwhile comrades to confront ‘The Plague of… the Locust!’

Perhaps X-Men #24 isn’t the most memorable tale in the canon but it still reads well and has the added drama of Marvel Girl’s departure for college crystallizing the romantic rivalry for her affections between Cyclops and Angel: providing another deft sop to the audience as it enabled many future epics to include Campus life in the action-packed, fun-filled mix…

Somehow Jean still managed to turn up in every issue even as ‘The Power and the Pendant’ (#25; October 1966) found the boys tracking new menace El Tigre. This South American hunter was visiting New York to steal the second half of a Mayan amulet which would grant him god-like powers…

Having soundly thrashed the mutant heroes, newly-ascended and reborn as Kukulcán, the malign meta returns to Amazonian San Rico to recreate a fallen pre-Columbian empire with the heroes in hot pursuit. The result is a cataclysmic showdown in ‘Holocaust!’ which leaves Angel fighting for his life and deputy leader Cyclops crushed by guilt…

Issue #27 saw the return of some old foes in ‘Re-enter: The Mimic!’ even as the mesmerising Puppet Master pits power-duplicating Calvin Rankin against a team riven by dissention and ill-feeling, whilst in ‘The Wail of the Banshee!’ Rankin joins the X-Men in a tale introducing the sonic-powered mutant (eventually to become a valued team-mate and team-leader) as a deadly threat. This was the opening salvo of an ambitious extended epic featuring the global menace of sinister, mutant-abducting organisation Factor Three.

John Tartaglione replaced Ayers as regular inker with the bright and breezy thriller ‘When Titans Clash!’, as the power-duplicating Super-Adaptoid almost turns the entire team into robotic slaves before ending the Mimic’s crime-busting career, after which Jack Sparling & Tartaglione illustrated ‘The Warlock Wakes’.

Here old Thor foe Merlin enjoys a stylish upgrade to malevolent mutant menace whilst attempting to turn the planet into his mind-controlled playground, after which Marvel Girl and the boys reunite to tackle a deranged Iron Man wannabe who is also an accidental atomic time bomb in ‘We Must Destroy… the Cobalt Man!’ (by Roth & Tartaglione).

‘Beware the Juggernaut, My Son!’ then augments an aura of oppression and dire days ahead as Professor X is abducted by Factor Three and the X-Men are forced to stand alone against an unstoppable mystic monster…

The blistering battle against Juggernaut is interrupted by a helpful guest-shot from Doctor Strange (and his mentor the Ancient One) leading to a life-saving trip ‘Into the Crimson Cosmos!’

Armed with crucial knowledge regarding the nature of their enemy, the mutants are able to vanquish the unstoppable Cain Marko, but when the dust settles the kids are left with almost no resources to rescue their abducted leader…

Dan Adkins – in full Wally Wood appreciation mode – memorably illustrated #34’s ‘War… In a World of Darkness!’ as the desperate team’s search for Xavier takes them into the middle of a subterranean civil war between immortal Tyrannus and the Mole Man, before he inked Roth on follow-up ‘Along Came A Spider…’

When absent ally Banshee is captured mid-sentence during a crucial communication with the X-Men, everybody’s favourite wall-crawler is mistaken for a Factor Three flunky. After the desperate and distraught mutants find the hero the webslinger is forced to battle for his life against the increasingly unstable teens…

‘Mekano Lives’ (with art from Ross Andru & George Roussos, nee Bell) sees the cash-strapped teens delayed in their attempts to follow a lead to Europe by a troubled rich kid with a stolen exo-skeletal super-suit, but his defeat happily provides them with the wherewithal needed to resume their search…

Don Heck stepped in as inker over Andru’s pencils with #37 as ‘We, the Jury…’ finds the mutants finally facing Factor Three – now in alliance with a host of their oldest and most venal mutant foes – and primed to trigger an atomic war between the Americans and Soviet Union.

Heck assumed the penciller’s role for ‘The Sinister Shadow of… Doomsday!’ (inked by Roussos), before the tense Armageddon saga concludes with good and evil mutants temporarily united against a common foe in ‘The Fateful Finale!’ (embellished by Vince Colletta).

Werner Roth had not departed the mutant melee: with issue #38 a classy and compelling back-up feature had commenced, and his slick illustration was perfect for the fascinating Origins of the X-Men series. Inked by John Verpoorten ‘A Man Called… X’ began unveiling the hidden history of Cyclops, also revealing how Xavier began his cosy relationship with human FBI agent Fred Duncan

The second instalment, ‘Lonely are the Hunted!’ displayed humanity in full-on mob-mode as terrified citizens riot and stalk newly “outed” mutant Scott Summers: scenes reminiscent of contemporary race-riots that would fuel the racial outcast metaphor of the later Chris Claremont team.

Back at the front of the comicbook, Thomas, Heck & George Tuska ushered in a new era for the team with #40’s ‘The Mask of the Monster!’ as – now clad in new, individualistic costumes rather than superhero school uniforms – the young warriors tackle what seems to be Victor Frankenstein’s unholy creation, whilst in the second feature Scott Summers meets ‘The First Evil Mutant!’

‘Now Strikes… the Sub-Human!’ and sequel ‘If I Should Die…’ introduce tragic survivor Grotesk, whose only dream is to destroy the entire planet, and who institutes the greatest and most stunning change yet to the constantly evolving series.

I’m spoiling nothing now, but when this story first ran, the shock couldn’t be described as the last page showed the heroic, world-saving death of Charles Xavier. I’m convinced that at the time this was an honest plot development – removing an “old” figurehead and living deus ex machina from a “young” series – and I’m just as certain that his subsequent “return” a few years later was an inadvisable reaction to dwindling sales…

From the rear of those climactic issues ‘The Living Diamond!’ and ‘The End… or the Beginning?’ (this last inked by neophyte Herb Trimpe) signalled the creation of The Xavier School for Gifted Children as solitary recluse Professor X takes fugitive Scott under his wing and begins his Project: X-Men…

Issue #43 instituted the true reinvention of the mutant team with ‘The Torch is Passed!’ (Thomas, Tuska & Tartaglione) as arch-nemesis Magneto returns with reluctant confederates Toad, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to entrap the bereaved heroes in his hidden island fortress.

This epic action event was supported by educational back-up tale entitled ‘Call Him… Cyclops’ (Thomas, Roth & John Verpoorten), revealing the secrets of the mutant’s awesome eye-blasts, after which the next issue saw the modern-day Angel inexplicably escape and encounter a revived Golden Age Timely Comics hero whilst flying back to America for reinforcements against Magneto.

Rousing read ‘Red Raven, Red Raven…’ (Thomas and Gary Friedrich, with Don Heck layouts, Roth pencils & inks from Tartaglione) was accompanied by the opening of the next X-Men Origins chapter-play as ‘The Iceman Cometh!’, courtesy of Friedrich, Tuska & Verpoorten.

X-Men #45 led with ‘When Mutants Clash!’ as Cyclops also escapes, only to encounter the highly-conflicted Quicksilver; a battle latterly concluded in Avengers #53 as ‘In Battle Joined’ (Thomas, John Buscema and Tuska). This depicts Magneto’s defeat and apparent death. Meanwhile, back in the back of #45, Iceman’s story of small town intolerance continues – but does not here conclude – in ‘And the Mob Cried… Vengeance!’

Although the drama hits pause the comics do not as 1960’s superhero satire vehicle Not Brand Echh numbers #4 and 8 provide a brace of spoof sagas beginning with ‘If Magneat-o Should Clobber Us…’ (Thomas & Tom Sutton) whilst Friedrich & Sutton describe all-out mutant war in ‘Beware the Forbush-Man, My Son!’

This volume concludes with a glorious and revelatory selection of extras a batch of unused covers: Roth’s submissions for X-Men #25 and 33, Gil Kane’s banned (by the Comics Code Authority) take on #33’s and Tuska’s for issue #38.

After a brace of original art pages by Heck, a succession of pre-“tweaked” (modified by the Marvel Bullpen design team) covers follow – #40 & 42 – as well as three extra pages for X-Men #45, created for the story’s reprint run in Marvel Triple Action.

Closing down the mutant mayhem are a Kirby T-Shirt design plus previous Masterworks covers courtesy of The King, Roth, Tuska and painter Dean White.

These tales perfectly display Marvel’s evolution from quirky action tales to the more fraught, breast-beating, convoluted melodramas that inexorably led to the monolithic X-brand of today. Well drawn, highly readable stories are never unwelcome or out of favour though, and it should be remembered that everything here informs so very much of today’s mutant mythology. These are unmissable stories for the dedicated fan and newest convert. Every comics fan should own this book, so do…
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mighty Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Joe Sinnott, Al Hartley, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1267-9 (HB)                    : 978-0-7851-4568-4 (TPB)

The Mighty Thor was the comic series in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s examination of space-age mythology began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

This spectacular tome – in hard cover, trade paperback and eFormats – re-presents those pioneering Asgardian exploits from JiM #83-100, spanning August 1962 to January 1964 in a blur of innovation and seat-of-the-pants legend-revising and universe-building…

Following a typically frothy Introduction from Stan Lee, the wonderment begins with the lead tale from anthological Journey into Mystery #83, which saw a bold costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour.

The initial exploit followed crippled American doctor Donald Blake who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they whey were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and all that infectious enthusiasm shows in the next adventure…

‘The Mighty Thor Vs. the Executioner’ is a “commie-busting” tale of its time with a thinly disguised Fidel Castro wasting his formidable armies in battle against our hero. Dr. Blake’s nurse Jane Foster debuts; a bland cipher adored from afar by the Norse superman’s timid alter-ego.

The creative team settled as Dick Ayers replaced Sinnott, and with #85’s ‘Trapped by Loki, God of Mischief!’ the final element fell into place with the “return” of a suitably awesome arch-foe; in this case the hero’s half-brother. The evil magician and compulsive trickster escaped divine incarceration and his first thought was to bedevil Thor by causing terror and chaos on the world of mortals he was so devoted to…

Here a new and greater universe was first revealed with the tantalising hints and glimpses of the celestial otherworld and more Nordic gods…

Issue #86 introduced another recurring villain. Zarrko, bristling at the sedentary ease of 23rd century life, voyages back to 1962 and steals an experimental “C-Bomb”, forcing the Thunderer into a stirring hunt through time and inevitable clash with super-technology ‘On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man!’

On his return Blake became a target of Soviet abductors. Those sneaky spies even managed to make Thor a ‘Prisoner of the Reds!’ before our epic warrior eventually emerges unscathed and triumphant…

‘The Vengeance of Loki’ sees the god of Mischief’s return in #88: a malevolent miscreant uncovering Thor’s secret identity and naturally menacing Jane Foster after which ‘The Thunder God and the Thug’ offers adventure on a much more human scale as a gang boss runs riot over the city and roughshod over a good woman’s heart, giving the Asgardian a chance to demonstrate his more sophisticated and sympathetic side by crushing Thug Thatcher and freeing her from his brutal influence.

Issue #90 was an unsettling surprise as the grandeur of Kirby & Ayers was abruptly replaced by the charming yet angst-free art of Al Hartley, who illustrated Lee & Lieber’s stock alien-invasion yarn ‘Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man!’ A month later the Storm Lord tackles ‘Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!’, with Sinnott handling pencils and inks in a thriller starring a carnival mentalist who – augmented by Loki’s magic – comes catastrophically close to killing our hero…

Sinnott illustrated JiM #92’s ‘The Day Loki Stole Thor’s Magic Hammer’ (scripted by Robert Bernstein over Lee’s plot) which moves the action fully to the mythical realm of Asgard for the first time as Thor seeks to recover his stolen weapon after Loki enchants the magnificent mallet.

Kirby & Ayers momentarily returned for Cold War/Atom Age thriller ‘The Mysterious Radio-Active Man!’ – again scripted by Bernstein – as Mao Tse Tung unleashes an atomic assassin in retaliation for Thor thwarting China’s invasion of India.

Such “Red-baiting” was common in early Marvel titles, but their inherent jingoistic silliness can’t mar the eerie beauty of the artwork. With this tale the rangy, raw-boned Thunder God completed his slow metamorphosis into the husky, burly blonde bruiser who dominated any panel he was drawn in.

Sinnott illustrated the next three somewhat pedestrian adventures, ‘Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race!’, ‘The Demon Duplicator’ and ‘The Magic of Mad Merlin!’, but these mediocre tales of magic-induced amnesia, scientifically-manufactured evil doppelgangers and an ancient mutant menace were the last of an old style of comics. Lee took over full scripting with Journey into Mystery #97 and a torrent of awesome action wedded to soap opera melodrama resulted in a fresh style for a developing readership.

‘The Lava Man’ in #97 was again drawn by Kirby, with the subtly-textured inking of Don Heck adding depth to the tale of an invader summoned from the subterranean realms to menace humanity at the behest of Loki. More significantly, a long running rift between Thor and his stern father Odin is established after the Lord of Asgard refuses to allow his son to love the mortal Jane.

This acrimonious triangle was a perennial sub-plot fuelling many attempts to humanise Thor, because already he was a hero too powerful for most villains to cope with. Most importantly this issue was notable for the launch of a spectacular back-up series. Tales of Asgard – Home of the mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends.

Initially adapting classic fables of the Elder Eddas but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, he built his own cosmos and mythology, to underpin the company’s entire continuity. This first yarn, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the World Tree Yggdrasil.

‘Challenged by the Human Cobra’ introduced the serpentine villain (bitten by a radioactive cobra, would you believe?) in a tale by Lee & Heck, whilst Kirby – with them in attendance – offered ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!’: a short, potent fantasy romp laying more groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment to come.

The same format held for issues #99 and #100 with the main story (the first 2-part adventure in the run) introducing the ‘Mysterious Mister Hyde’ – and concluding a month later with ‘The Master Plan of Mr. Hyde!’

The modern yarn dealt with a contemporary chemist who could transform into a super-strong villain at will who frames Thor for his crimes, whilst in primordial prehistory Kirby detailed Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Vince Colletta inking) crafted an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

These early tales of the God of Thunder reveal the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes comicbook superheroes such a unique experience.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying


By the Original Writer, Mick Anglo, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon, Mick Austin, Paul Neary & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5462-4 (HB)

I got my start in comics as the most junior of juniors on a rather iconoclastic and sensational magazine named Warrior. It was an incredible learning experience but producing arguably Britain’s most influential comic magazine was a tense, fraught, high energy, cauldron-like existence for all involved and some of those comrades-in-arms barely talk to each other these days.

That’s part of the story behind the fact that the incredible author of most of the stories in this premier compilation doesn’t want his name anywhere near it.

As that’s the case I’m happy to respect his wishes. It is a shame, though, as this is a work which changed the shape and nature of superhero comics forever, even if during the latter days of it in Warrior, we all thought the bloody strip was cursed…

If you’re interested in rumour, speculation and divided perspectives on ancient history, there are plenty of places online to visit for other information, but today let’s just discuss one of the very best superhero stories ever crafted…

This book is available in a variety of formats and although some of the back-up contents might vary in essence it is a lavish, remastered full re-presentation of the original Marvelman saga A Dream of Flying; stuffed with extra story content and page after page of lush behind-the-scenes material, production art and more.

Just in case you weren’t aware: the hero of this tome was originally created by jobbing artist and comics packager Mick Anglo for publisher L. Miller and Son in 1954 to replace a line of extremely popular British weekly monochrome reprints starring the Marvel Family as originally generated by US outfit Fawcett.

When a decade-long legal dispute between Fawcett and National/DC arguing copyright infringement ended just as the superhero trend nosedived in America, the defendant simply closed down most of its comics line. Overnight this act deprived British – and other foreign clients’ – firms of one of their most popular reprint strands.

In a feat of slippery brilliance, Anglo rapidly retooled defunct Yank heroes Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel into Marvelman, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman, subsequently detailing their simplistic, charming adventures until 1963, when falling sales and changing tastes finally caught up with them all and they vanished into comicbook limbo.

In 1982 the characters and concepts were picked up by Dez Skinn for his proposed new independent and proudly British venture and quite soon magic was being created again…

The second end began when a certain US comics publisher started suing Warrior for using the word “Marvel” even though when Marvelman was created they were still calling themselves “Atlas”. (No, of course I’m over it now…)

An inescapable truism of modern life is that money trumps fact every time…

This compelling volume opens with ‘Prologue 1956: The Invaders from the Future’ (originally created by Anglo and the great Don Lawrence but subtly tweaked by our unnamed “original writer”) as a scene-setting foretaste of what might have been before the deconstructionist main event opens.

In that idealised past epoch, invulnerable time-travellers from 1981 are beaten back by the intrepid trio of superheroes before the real story begins in the drab, humdrum and utterly ordinary world of Thatcherite Britain, circa 1982…

Over-the-hill freelance journalist Mike Moran is plagued by ‘A Dream of Flying’ (illustrated by Garry Leach) as a godlike gleaming superman before being blown up by atom bombs…

This morning, however, he can’t let it stop him getting to the opening of the new atomic power station at Larksmere, even if his concentration is ruined by another of his crippling headaches and the agonising frustration of a word he’s forgotten lurking just beyond the tip of his tongue…

The press launch is an unmitigated disaster. When a band of terrorists attack the site, Mike collapses and while he’s being dragged off something happens. That word comes back to him and, in a catastrophic salvo of heat and light and noise, he transforms into the creature of his dreams before comprehensively dealing with the gunmen and flying off into space…

In ‘Legends’ the glittering paragon returns to Mike’s wife and attempts to explain the impossible events and his restored memories of being a superhero in Fifties Britain. Liz Moran cannot help but laugh at the canon of ridiculous absurdities this incredible creature spouts even if to all intents and purposes he is her husband. After all, if his restored memories are correct, why has nobody ever heard of him?

To augment the drama (and pad out the comicbooks this compilation is taken from), ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ devotes space to pages offering a wealth of pre-production work: sketches, design roughs, pencilled panels and complete original art, colour-indications, pertinent ads, pin-ups and covers by Leach.

These are supplemented by ‘Kimota! The Secret Origin of Mick Anglo’s Marvelman’ by British comics historian and journalist Mike Conroy, and ‘Mick on Mick’ sees Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada interviewing Mick Anglo before a brace of the veteran’s strips (from Marvelman #25, February 3rd 1954) reveal what all the post-war fuss was about.

‘Marvelman and the Atomic Bomber’ finds precocious newsboy Micky Moran on the trail of deadly spies after which ‘Marvelman and the Stolen Radium’ has the Atomic Warrior foiling dastardly bandits led by Professor Hatz and saving England from fatal contamination…

Further vintage thrills materialise in ‘The Stolen Reflections’ (Marvelman #32, March 24th 1954) when mad scientist Gargunza builds a machine to animate mirror images…

Returning to modern times and full colour, aging Mike’s insane situation is exacerbated next morning ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. Technological guru and self-made billionaire John Bates calls out of the blue and Mike suddenly remembers the amiable little lad with superpowers who was his jolly sidekick before being caught in the same atomic blast that eradicated his own memories.

After he and Liz visit the unctuous mogul, Mike realises with horror that his fawning junior partner never changed back to human but has been slowly using his gifts to dominate the world for the last eighteen years…

Rumbled, Bates ferociously attacks in ‘Dragons’, using abilities which have grown and evolved in two decades of constant if covert use to beat the recently returned Miracleman near to death. However, the horrific super-duel is abruptly curtailed by a sudden jump into what we thought back then would be the near-future…

Warrior #4 was sold as a summer special in August 1982. It led with a bold fill-in set three years into the story time-line. The editorial long-term plan had been to create a “Justice League” of Warrior characters and ‘The Yesterday Gambit’ – with art by Steve Dillon, Alan Davis & Paul Neary – starred two of them in an interlude from their final battle with an ultimate nemesis.

The complex plot involved trans-dimensional teleporting alien samurai Aza Chorn (as yet unintroduced) who ferried Miracleman through time to battle himself at different stages of his career. The expended energies of the cataclysmic combats would be harvested by the gallant Warpsmith to use against their unstoppable future foe…

The ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ offers more pre-production work: sketches, designs for Bates, complete original art, and covers by Leach, supplemented by ‘A Short History of British Comics’ by Mike Conroy plus a brace of 1950s classics.

‘The Birth of Marvelman’ (Marvelman #65, November 1st 1954) was the eagerly-anticipated origin tale of how reclusive astro-scientist Guntag Barghelt first gifted plucky young Micky Moran with the greatest power in the universe, after which issue #102 (July 30th 1955) saw a newly-minted boy hero rescuing innocent kids unjustly accused of being juvenile delinquents in ‘Introducing Kid Marvelman’

The appalling supra-normal duel of metahuman gods resumes next: spectacularly devastating much of London. Pencilled by Alan Davis and inked by Leach, ‘Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder’ emphasises the true horror of para-powered combat and only ends when the smugly overconfident former Kid Miracleman accidentally defeats himself…

The first inklings of the incredible truth begin to emerge in ‘Secret Identity’ (Davis & Leach) as Sir Dennis Archer of mothballed, clandestine organisation “The Spookshow” despatches his top assassin to find and sanction a threat he’s long-believed eradicated in a flash of atomic fire decades past.

Mike and Liz meanwhile head for Dartmoor to test Miracleman’s abilities in private.

Their marriage has suffered since the initial transformation, especially as Mike insists he and his alter-ego are two different people and Miracleman has got Liz pregnant after his own fruitless years of trying…

Davis fully took over the art chores with ‘Blue Murder’ as Archer’s highly capable investigator/hitman Evelyn Cream tracks down and brilliantly takes out Moran with a minimum of fuss…

Following Mick Austin’s award-winning cover to Warrior #7, ‘We Are Warpsmiths!’ reintroduces the hero’s prospective alien allies through covers, sketches and design roughs, culminating with the stranger creatures’ initial storyline as first seen in Warrior #9 and 10.

Reproduced here in captivating full colour and showcasing the bizarre and exotic realms the militaristic peacekeepers are sworn to defend, ‘Cold War, Cold Warrior’ sees a family group of stellar sentinels critically overreact to a suspected incursion into their protectorate…

The unending, extended conflict with their cosmic antithesis The Qys results in constant, deadly politicking and here innocent kids and two members of their own Warpsmith cadre are sacrificed to expediency and a greater agenda…

By the advent of ‘Out of the Dark’ (first seen in Warrior #9, January 1983) the enigmatic killer Cream has inexplicably switched sides, aiding Miracleman as he seeks out the truth of his origins in a top-secret military bunker which contains deadly defences, another – lesser – superhuman and more. The human resources prove as nothing to the sparkling juggernaut in their midst but the Spookshow has one last card to play: a deformed and inadequate leftover superhuman dubbed Big Ben

‘Inside Story’ reveals at last what happened when British Intelligence happened upon the find of an epoch and how they foolishly sought outside assistance to utilise it. Tragically, that single misjudgement led to a catalogue of others…

Soon Miracleman understands how recovered and reverse-engineered alien DNA techniques, cruel and callous genetic experimentation and the paranoia of one deranged, debauched scientist who grew supermen and programmed them to compliance using comicbook fantasies led to his current predicament in culminating chapter ‘Zarathustra’

To Be Continued…

The remainder of this stunning collection is rounded out with tantalising snippets from Warrior’s then-gestating shared universe, beginning with ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ – illustrated by Davis as a framing device in the Marvelman Special – which originally featured a number of classic, remastered Anglo-era adventures and a fascinating peek into what might have been…

The nomadic multiplanar policemen called Warpsmiths reappear in ‘Ghostdance’ (originally published in A1 #1, October 1989) in a direct continuation of the first saga, as the surviving dutiful sentinels grieve and move on in their own uniquely inexplicable manner…

This last is accompanied by more ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’ material from Leach, tracing the development of the Warpsmiths and augmented by a selection of house ads, even more original art pages and found background material.

Wrapping things up is a stunning gallery of covers and variants by Leach, Davis, Austin, Joe Quesada, Danny Miki, Richard Isanove, John Cassady, Paul Mounts, Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Laura Martin, Skottie Young, Mark Buckingham, D’Israeli, Jerome Opena, Dean White, Steve Oliff, Neal Adams, Frank Martin, Mark Farmer, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, Mike McKone, Paulo Rivera, Mike Deodato, Rain Beredo, J.G Jones, Javier Rodriguez, John Tyler Christopher, Gerald Parel and Bryan Hitch, generated for Marvel’s 2013 relaunch of the property.

One of the greatest superhero comics sagas ever. There’s simply nothing else to say…
© 2014 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 12


By Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Joe Sinnott & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4218-8 (HB)

Monolithic modern Marvel truly began with the adventures of a small super-team who were as much squabbling family as coolly capable costumed champions. Everything the company produces now is due to the quirky quartet and the groundbreaking, inspired efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

This full-colour compendium – available in hardcover and digital editions – collects Fantastic Four #117-128: spanning December 1971 to November 1972 with Stan Lee surrendering the scripting chores whilst John Buscema and Joe Sinnott did their utmost to remake Jack Kirby’s stellar creation in their own style and image and outdoing themselves with every successive issue…

What You Should Already Know: maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged tag-along little brother Johnny miraculously survived an ill-starred private space-shot after cosmic rays penetrated their stolen ship’s inadequate shielding. As they crashed back to Earth the uncanny radiation mutated them all in unimaginable ways…

Richards’ body became astoundingly elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible and project forcefields whilst Johnny could turn into living flame and tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. They agreed to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born the Fantastic Four.

Following an effusive Preface from Lee and a candid, context-creating and fact-filled Introduction by Roy Thomas, the drama opens with the team in turmoil as usual. After saving the world (from the Over-mind) the heartsick Human Torch headed for the Himalayas and a long-delayed rapprochement with his lost girlfriend Crystal of the Uncanny Inhumans in FF #117.

Months previously she had been forced to leave civilisation because modern pollutants had poisoned her system, but when blazing mad Johnny Storm battled his way into her homeland in ‘The Flame and the Quest!’ (written by Archie Goodwin) he is horrified to discover that she had never arrived back in the Great Refuge of Attilan

Flying way back to New York, Johnny consults part-time nanny and career-sorceress Agatha Harkness who tracks Crystal down in Central American dictatorship Terra Verde. Arriving there exhausted and expectant, Johnny finds his love is the mesmerised slave of arcane alchemist Diabolo.

The mystic has convinced the populace – and Crystal – that she is a reborn goddess and needs her to seize control in ‘Thunder in the Ruins!’ (inked by Jim Mooney). He would have succeeded too, if not for that flaming kid…

The issue also included an intriguing short piece starring the Thing in ‘What Mad World?’ (Goodwin, Buscema & Mooney) wherein the Tragic Titan is afforded a glimpse of an alternate Earth where an even greater mishap occurred after the fateful spaceflight which created the FF…

The Black Panther – cautiously renamed Black Leopard for contemporary political reasons – guest-starred in #119’s ‘Three Stood Together!’ as inker Sinnott returned and Roy Thomas scripted a damning – if shaded – indictment of South African apartheid.

When the heroic ruler of jungle wonderland Wakanda is interned in the white-ruled state of Rudyarda, Ben and Johnny fly in to bust him out and clash with old enemy Klaw who is attempting to steal a deadly new super-weapon…

Fantastic Four #120 heralded an extended and overlong epic by Stan Lee which began with ‘The Horror that Walks on Air!’ as a seemingly omnipotent invader claiming to be an angel scours the Earth and declares humanity doomed.

The tale laboriously continues in ‘The Mysterious Mind-Blowing Secret of Gabriel!’ with the recently reunited and utterly overmatched quartet saved by the late-arriving Silver Surfer before facing off against world-devouring ‘Galactus Unleashed’, before Reed again outsmarts the cosmic god to prevent the consumption of ‘This World Enslaved!’

Although beautifully illustrated, the hackneyed saga was a series low-point, but Lee was back on solid dramatic ground with #124’s ‘The Return of the Monster’ and concluding episode ‘The Monster’s Secret!’ wherein the mystery menace Reed had once dubbed ‘the Monster from the Lost Lagoon’ resurfaces to haunt a Manhattan hospital, steal drugs and kidnap Sue… but only for the best and most noble of reasons…

Roy Thomas assumed the role of writer/editor with #126, revisiting the classic origin and first clash (from FF #1) with the Mole Man in ‘The Way it Began!’ this was all mere prelude for what was to follow…

The reverie prompts the Thing to invade the sub-surface despot’s realm in search of a cure for the blindness which afflicts his girlfriend Alicia Masters in ‘Where the Sun Dares Not Shine!’ and all-too soon the embattled brute is embroiled in a three-way war between Mole Man, Kala, Empress of the Netherworld and immortal dictator Tyrannus.

When his comrades go after Ben they are duped into attacking him in ‘Death in a Dark and Lonely Place!’

The narrative concluded for the moment, there follow four pages of pin-ups by Buscema & Sinnott highlighting ‘The Fabulous F.F.’s Friends… and Foes’, plus the Kirby & Vince Colletta cover to 1971’s all-reprint Fantastic Four Annual #9 to wrap up this morsel of Marvel magic.

Although Kirby had taken the explosive imagination and questing sense of wonder with him on his departure, the sheer range of beloved characters and concepts he had created with Lee served to carry the series for years afterwards. These admittedly erratic and inconsistent stories kept the team book ticking over until bolder hands could once again take the World’s Greatest Comics Magazine Heroes back to the stratospheric heights where they belonged.

Solid, honest and creditable efforts, these tales are probably best appreciated by dedicated superhero fans and continuity freaks like me, but they can still thrill and enthral the generous and forgiving casual browser looking for an undemanding slice of graphic narrative excitement.
© 1971, 1972, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved